We’ve all heard that gratitude is good for us. And we know that expressing gratitude to other people should be part of our daily routine.
But chances are, someone reading this note is busy, and it may be tricky to introduce something new like this.
Since we know that gratitude makes workdays better (for you and others!), and reaping the benefits of gratitude will be easier if it’s, well, easier to practice gratitude in the first place, here are a handful of practical, tactical steps in gratitude you can do right now, as well as the outcomes you can expect from each.
1. Take inventory of your physical blessings.
Stop and count the physical, tangible, material things you have right now.
- Do I have a roof over my head and a place to sleep? (Check! That’s two)
- Do I have food to eat today? (Check! That’s another one)
- Do I have clothes and outerwear to protect me from the weather (Check! That’s another handful)
- Look around, count the fun things - games, movies, TVs, phones, etc. (That’s another several)
- Look around, count the extra things - things that you have more than one of, or things you’d have to box up if you were changing homes. (That’s probably lots more)
Literally, count the things you have. One...two...three...four...six hundred and eight...you get the idea. If it’s too much to count things you can’t see, then simply start by being thankful for the things you can see from wherever you are at this very moment. For each thing you count, say a little “thank you”. Countless people in the world don’t have these physical blessings.
What to expect? When we consider the many things we have for which we can and should be grateful, we can demonstrate more care for those things - wasting less, protecting our natural resources more carefully, and being overall better stewards of the things under our care. And it also changes the mindset of how we approach those same objects: by stopping for a moment to be grateful for them, we can approach them with more joy and less burden. We can shift from “oh, darn, more dishes to do” to “oh, wow, I’m so grateful I have enough dishes for the whole family.” Instead of “here’s the laundry piling up again,” we can shift to “what a blessing to have choices of what to wear.” This can help make tasks like dishes and laundry a little more appealing. And maybe, just maybe, we may even find ourselves shifting to “I have more than I need, so I can share.”
2. Name the people.
Out loud (or at least “out loud” in your head), name the people in your life who...
- inspire you
- lift you up
- encourage you
- make you laugh
- make you think
- challenge you
- help you grow
What to expect? There are several up-sides to being grateful for other people. First, when we recognize the people who have helped us get where we are, we adopt a bit of humility that can help us become a better and more gracious colleague, friend, and neighbor. Second, when we think about others and how they’ve helped us in the past, we are reminded of positive things that can help us shift our eyes away from the negative that might be in our immediate surroundings. Third, when we think about people who are not as close to us, we begin to develop curiosity and compassion, both of which are essential to developing good human relationships, and both of which can combat any anxiety we may have about our own personal circumstances. And fourth, when we think about how others help us, we practice creative associations, which can be extremely useful in problem-solving.
3. Consider the intangibles.
This one can be a little harder, but so very rewarding! Pause for just a moment, and think through your day, your week, your month, and your year. Think about the intangible, untouchable things that enriched your life. Just because you can’t hold them in your hand doesn’t mean that they haven’t contributed something for which you can express gratitude. How about the time to practice your favorite hobby or leisure activity - even if this time-interval doesn’t have much free-time, think of the simple moments that brought you joy. Consider any of the following:
- the joy of the work you do that got you into that field in first place
- the thrill of finishing that tough task or cracking that tricky problem
- even a moment of walking outside
- the feel of the sun on your skin
- the color of the turning leaves
- the sound of the morning birds singing in the trees
- the funny joke someone told that made you laugh
- the warm feeling when someone showed you they care about you
What to expect? By turning this into a breathing exercise, we can slow down a little and be more mindful. By being mindful of our past moments, we can build habits of mindfulness that will let us savor our future moments as they become our present. Slowing down makes the experience richer - think about the difference in flavors between when we scarf down dinner in under three minutes compared with when we slow down, and savor each bite. Savoring the positive helps us build positive habits. Our human nature focuses more on the negative than the positive. I remember reading that if 100 things happen to us, and over 90 are good, and just a small handful are bad, we’ll remember and talk about those unfortunate few bad things. But if we intentionally focus on the good things, we can shift our attitude towards the work at hand, the day ahead, and the people around us. By shifting our attitude towards the positive, we can put a spring in our own step, and at the same time create a contagiously positive attitude that might just put a spring in someone else’s step too.
4. Write it down.
Whether you take time to jot it down in a gratitude journal to help you focus your thoughts or a thank you note that you write and send or hand-deliver to someone who has made a positive impact on your day, take a few minutes to actually write out (okay, type if you have to) the things for which you’re grateful. Keeping that record for yourself to review later (i.e. a journal of some sort) or sharing it with someone else (i.e. a thank you note) are both great next steps.
What to expect? The memory and ability to recall the thing for which we're grateful will last longer simply by the act of writing it down. Writing is a great way to help commit something - the thing itself as well as the way it made we feel - to memory. And the more we write these things down, the better we build those muscles of gratitude. In the case of the thank you note, we're also brightening someone else’s day, giving them a reason to smile as they realize that they’ve made a positive impact on us. One other way you can write it down - jump over to the Your Clear Next Step Facebook or LinkedIn pages and join in the conversation about things you’re grateful for.
What about you? How do you express gratitude?